Gamification is the integration of game-typical elements to educational contexts (Deterding et al., 2011). By incorporating these game elements, gamification aims to create a more interactive and immersive environment, where students actively participate, compete, and explore course content. It leverages intrinsic motivators, such as curiosity, competition, and a sense of achievement, to foster deeper learning, retention of knowledge, and the development of skills.
As an exemplary framework to implement gamification, Nah et al. (2014) propose the following design elements after reviewing 15 papers on the literature on gamification. In addition to the eight elements, it is important to keep in mind that Khurana and Kumar (2012) find a crucial factor for determining the success of the gamified content in improving student performance is the inclusion of ‘fun’. This is not surprising – if ever a non-compulsory game stops being fun, players will stop playing it.
|Points||Measure success and progress, potentially leading to rewards|
|Levels / Stages||Players can progress throughout the game with levels increasing in difficulty|
|Badges||Mark special achievements or acomplishments, useful for looking into the future|
|Leaderboards||Create a competitive setting, often show only a limited number of participants to avoid demotivation|
|Prizes and Rewards||Serves as motivation, generally better to receive many small rewards than one big one|
|Progress Bars||Track progress towards overall or individual goals|
|Storyline||Narrative for learning context and consistent motivation|
|Feedback||The more frequent and concise, the better|
All the afore-mentioned design elements are seamlessly integrated into KlickerUZH and can be utilized at the course level, with many of them applicable to specific live quizzes as well. This approach not only motivates students, but also encourages deeper engagement with course content in a way that is not only educational, but also entertaining.
A number of studies show promising findings with regard to gamification. For instance, research by Sailer & Homner (2020) investigates the effect of gamification on cognitive and behavioral learning outcomes. The results showed that gamified learning not only improves students' cognitive skills, but also positively influences their behavior in the learning environment. In this regard, the challenging aspect of gamification has a motivating effect on students and may be evidenced by an increased interest in the learning content.
But what are the effects of gamification in large classes? Especially in a big class, it is often a challenge to ensure the engagement of individual students and to keep them motivated. The element of gamification can help in this regard. Gamification can create a playful and competitive environment that encourages student engagement and, accordingly, leads to higher achievement as a study of Stott & Neustaedte (2013) shows.
Ultimately, the application of gamification in large classes allows for an enriching and motivating learning environment that has the potential to create a dynamic atmosphere and sustainably improve the educational experience for students.
Scenario Description with KlickerUZH
You are a lecturer and wish to add gamification elements to your lecture. KlickerUZH allows this either at the course level or by implementing gamification into specific live quizzes (for the later, see the use case on the (gamified) live quizzes).
At the course level, KlickerUZH incorporates an optional challenge system that allows students to actively engage in the course throughout the semester or a self-selected period. Students can create an avatar and earn points by actively engaging in the course, whether through participation in live or practice quizzes, microlearnings or by completing group activities. These points are displayed on a course leaderboard, showcasing the top 10 students as well as a participant's individual ranking within the challenge. However, a participant's individual ranking within the challenge is only visible to themselves and not shared with other students. Within a course, students can also form groups to check how their peers are doing with regard to their ranking and take part in collaborative group activities. Based on the points achieved there are levels which can be reached and that increases their motivation to engage in the course.
In addition to the challenge system, the KlickerUZH offers a design for a storyline and visual aspects that can be integrated optionally.
Lecturers have the freedom to further personalize the implementation of gamification elements according to their preferences. They can award achievements to recognize individual participants' accomplishments (e.g., Team spirit for taking part in a group activity) or giving gifts or rewards to further incentivize students' engagement and participation.
To ensure easy accessibility and improve participation, it is recommended to prepare a semester-long timeline outlining the gamified learning activities in KlickerUZH and the challenge details (e.g., if there are any awards for winning the challenge). This provides students with a clear understanding of what to expect during the semester, including when and where they can earn points to progress in the competition. If these elements are clear, students could end up frustrated and quit playing.
The gamification concept has been successfully implemented in two large first-year lectures, accommodating up to 800 students (Banking and Finance I and II), as well as two bachelor courses at the University of Zurich during the autumn semester of 2022 and the spring semester of 2023. The integration of various activities aimed to create a fully gamified lecture. To evaluate the effectiveness of this approach, multiple sources were utilized for the conclusion. This included an end-of-semester course evaluation completed by the students, an internal survey distributed to the students of the latter lecture (n=63), as well as valuable input from lecturers and content creators. Furthermore, in the second course, a mock exam was administered and corrected, and the points achieved in the mock exam were considered in conjunction with student participation in the BF challenge. These multiple sources of information provided a comprehensive perspective on the outcomes of the gamified approach:
- Student feedback: 89.1% of participants claimed the full KlickerUZH concept helped them understand the learning content and 74.6% found the concept fun. These statistics are very encouraging to see; many students explicitly expressed their gratitude for the concept and named it the “best learning environment in the assessment!". 79.4% would like to see it in further lectures as a tool to revise and apply the material while interacting with other students. In a multiple-choice question, 51.7% found the concept useful and more than 20% deem the workload and difficulty appropriate. These results indicate the majority of participants find added value in the KlickerUZH and would like to engage in the concept in the future.
- BF Challenge: Even though 89.6% of the students enrolled in Banking and Finance II had created a KlickerUZH account, only 25.5% found the BF Challenge motivating. At no point in the spring semester did more than 40.9% of users join the leaderboard, meaning the pool of students who competed for prizes was relatively small. 55.6% of KlickerUZH survey participants claimed they had never been active in the self-learning environment with the sole objective of receiving points and 44% replied they had done so at least once. And 84.1% of participants felt the chance at potential prizes did not influence the number of points they collected; they would not have collected fewer had there been no prizes. This shows that not only were the majority of users not interested in the BF Challenge, but they were also not ambitious in reaching the top.
- Account creation: Even though they may not have wanted to compete for prizes on the leaderboard, new accounts were created each week and the ratio between completely inactive and active users declines throughout the spring semester. This shows there was still some general incentive to collect points or merely work with an avatar throughout the semester since most of the features could have also been completed without accounts. Students may have been interested to see how they compare to their peers in the leaderboard without wanting to compete, or they may have created an account for specific features, such as the awarding of points from the mock exam or the potential prizes after the two live quizzes.
- Gamification as a distractor: It is important to recognize that not all students may be receptive to gamification. Some individuals may have personal preferences or reasons for not enjoying or engaging with gamified elements. 4% found the KlickerUZH concept distracting, however, none deemed it unnecessary.
- Top20 users: Though the average user may not have been ambitious in climbing the leaderboard, several did stand out as the top20. These students participated, on average, in a more extensive range of the different features offered, such as the microlearning and mock exam, and achieved higher scores in them. More than a quarter of all learning element question entries stem from this pool of 5% of users; they were more than five times as active as their average peer and consistently scored high points not only in the leaderboard but also in the mock exam.
- Link to performance in the mock exam: The most significant positive correlation with good performance in the mock exam lies in the number of question entries students complete throughout the semester, much more so than in their accuracy or the completed range across all available questions. High numbers of question entries correlate the most strongly with high leaderboard points, too, leading to the conclusion that a high engagement level is the crucial factor influencing both the mock exam and leaderboard points.
- Peer pressure: The impact of gamification could also be influenced by the size of the class and the level of familiarity among students. Smaller classes (like the summer school course with around 40 students) benefit from stronger peer pressure and social dynamics, which can enhance the effectiveness of gamification.
- Overemphasis on competition: While competition can be a motivating factor, an excessive focus on rankings and leaderboards may create negative effects. Utilizing group activities and emphasizing cooperative achievements can help balance competition and collaboration.
- Choose motivational rewards: When implementing rewards, careful consideration should be given to selecting appropriate rewards that align with students' interests and preferences. Rewards do not need to be costly but should be meaningful and incentivize students' engagement and participation (this could also be choosing a song that is played in the break, or that winner can influence the company names / fictional people in an exam question in the future).
- Lecturer encouragement: Motivational encouragement from the lecturer is indeed crucial to foster student participation in gamified challenges.
- Time consumption: Effectively designing gamified experiences requires time, resources, and expertise. Poorly executed gamification attempts can lead to confusion or disengagement among students.
- Enhance engagement and motivation by incorporating game elements into learning experience.
- Encourage active participation and involvement of students in the lecture.
- Increase motivation by incorporating a challenge/reward system throughout the lecture including points, groups and group activities, badges / achievements, levels, and prizes.
- Enhance the learning experience by creating a dynamic and immersive learning environment where students can interact with the course material in a more engaging way.
- Provide opportunities for healthy competition, encouraging students to strive for achievements, rewards, or higher scores, which can drive their learning progress.
- Offer immediate feedback, rewards, and recognition for accomplishments, supporting students' progress and growth.